Health chiefs have apologised to councillors and officers in Neath Port Talbot for failing to consult them earlier on their plans to cut hospital beds.
Attending a special council meeting at Neath Port Talbot Council on Thursday, October 4, the chief executive of Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board (ABMU) Tracy Myhill said the health board did not engage in a way it should have done.
She told councillors: “We just didn’t get that right not only with you but with other partners.
“We should have been working together.”
ABMU undertook a public consultation earlier this year on its plans to close 20 beds at Neath Port Talbot Hospital as well as others in Bridgend and Swansea hospitals, saying hospital admissions were not always the best option for patients and they were investing more in community services.
But the move caused outrage among councillors who criticised the health board for its “unilateral action”.
They pointed out there was no infrastructure set up in the community to support the plans, there was a shortage of hospital beds in the first place with ambulances having to wait for long periods to admit patients, and there was no capacity in social services to carry out what was expected.
To make matters worse a letter sent to Ms Myhill by the council’s social care health and wellbeing scrutiny committee about their concerns went unanswered.
And, adding fuel to the fire, councillors were left having to scrutinise a 120-page document at the last minute before Thursday’s meeting due to its late arrival.
Asked by chairman of the scrutiny committee Councillor Linet Purcell, why ABMU had not responded, Ms Myhill said: “There is nothing I can say other than that should not have happened. I apologise on behalf of the organisation for that.
“We have to join up better in the health board.
“I and my colleagues would not have taken a decision not to reply but we didn’t reply and I can see how that would come across.”Ms Myhill said there was a need for the health board to change and “partner in a way we have never partnered before”, adding it needed to ensure they were collaborating rather than “competing or fighting”.
She said: “We do recognise we couldn’t work without you and there has been some money set aside for social care.
“We share the same challenges and recognise we can do better in addressing them together rather than separately.
“It’s the same population we’re serving – we need to find a different and better way of working together.”
Explaining the rationale behind the bed closures, Ms Myhill said: “There is a lot of things we do in hospitals that could be done in communities.
“It’s much more expensive, less convenient, and it doesn’t provide better outcomes for our patients.
“If we can get your care better and closer to home in the community as opposed to going into hospital that’s what we need to do.”
She added: “We all know the longer older people are in hospital they lose their function and their ability to go back home.”
Since the consultation ABMU has scaled back its proposals to close hospital beds – from 20 to seven in Neath Port Talbot Hospital.
However it is likely more will be axed in the future.
Ms Myhill said the health board was looking at ending the year with a £20m overspend on a £1.3bn budget.
She said despite funding pressures the health board had set aside funding for local authority services to help communities during the winter.
She said: “We are trying to do something different for the winter – it’s a small gesture we have not done before but it’s a very big step in recognising that if you fail we fail.”
Ms Myhill, who attended the meeting with ABMU chairman Andrew Davies and a number of senior directors, said health board representatives would attend council scrutiny meetings in future and a senior executive would be appointed as a single point of contact for council officers.
Mr Davies said with health services in Bridgend being transferred from ABMU in April to Cwm Taf University Health Board there was an opportunity to “restructure” its relationship with its two remaining local authorities.
Speaking at the end of the two-hour meeting council leader Rob Jones welcomed the progress.
He said: “We have got a positive message going forward to work closely together and I take heart from that.”
What’s your view? Is unilateral action acceptable by decision makers when it comes to public consultation? What more can organisations do to share accountability during the decision making process following the outcome of public consultations? Share your views by emailing The Consultation Movement at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Saturday 20 October 2018 in the South Wales Guardian. The Consultation Movement cannot confirm the accuracy of this story or confirm that it presents a balanced view. If you feel this is inaccurate we would welcome your perspective and evidence that this is the case.